Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

#StopPaying For Leads

This may come as a surprise, but finding more leads is really pretty easy. And free.

I’m a salesperson, just like many of my readers. Sure, I do lots of other things in my job – write, speak, make videos, take photos, travel – but trust me: None of that happens if I don’t make a sale. In fact, I need to make 50+ sales a year. But I don’t complain: When I was in high school, I had to make fifty sales a week working as a telemarketer. I’m pretty happy with my current quota.

Like most salespeople, much of my business comes from my sphere of influence: Past clients, business contacts, friends and family, plus peers in the speaking industry. With a lot of hard work, I’m fortunate to book about 90% of my sales from repeat customers and referrals. From what other salespeople tell me, that’s the norm for high performers in any sales industry. Still, that means I must add some “new” prospects each year to make my budget, and achieve my goals. So whats’ my strategy?

You might think I buy a lot of SEO or pay-per-click ads: Nope, not a dime’s worth. If I get any help from search engines, it’s through my content: blogs, videos and comments on websites that get a lot of traffic. For me, it’s more fun, creative, and direct way to show prospects what I can do for them by simply doing it. Better still, it permits commenting, discussions and dialogue I can turn into private calls and correspondence. That, of course, is what it means to sell. 

What about email lists? Yes, I have a nicely cultivated list of contacts. How many? Less than a thousand. Why so few? Because I opt for quality, not quantity. I can’t follow up on ten thousand readers; or a hundred thousand. But I can follow up on a few dozen people out of 1000 who open my emails and, for some, write back. Again: Sales. Volume isn’t the same as closings. Meanwhile, I keep an even smaller list of under two hundred people who mean a lot to me, and who I mean a lot to (I hope). I email each of them, one at a time, once in a while, with a personal message. Those personal messages start conversations, that I then close, about a third of the time, into new business.


What about ads in social networks? Well, I might do a “boost” once in a while on Facebook. Mostly I boost blog posts or photo/messages I really want others to enjoy. I generated maybe a half-dozen sales last year from social media boosts, and another half-dozen simply by liking the posts of people I want to stay connected with. Really easy.

But still, mostly sales.

So, what does all of this mean? Well, I guess it’s just a roundabout way of saying: I don’t get salespeople who pay for leads.

Really, is it that hard to sell? Share some thoughts in a blog post. Talk through YouTube. Follow up with an acquaintances. Jump into a social conversation. Heck: Pick up the phone. It still works, and it’s really cool to have a conversation these days. Texting only satisfies so far.

Finding new business isn’t magic. Just set aside time in your schedule to do the most important activity of your career. And, keep it simple. Contact three people a day, any way you want. Three a day, five days a week, sixty a month. Mix it up – past clients, business colleagues, some people who opened your emails. Over time, that’s plenty of conversation starters annually to fill your pipeline.

Now imagine if you followed up with two daily?

Two emails, one call, a tweet and a handwritten note a day can’t possibly be hard enough to justify paying for leads. Can it?

Besides: Who wants to be swamped with 100 inquiries a day, to respond to, qualify, sort, save, and somehow offer a meaningful interaction? I’m a salesman, not a circuit board.

So, start five conversations a day for a month. See what happens. If you haven’t primed your pipeline  enough by then, you can still run up your credit card with some lead-genie out there. If it turns out you don’t need to pay for leads, well, then, you can always send me a Starbucks gift card with the money you saved.

It’s really up to you.


  • LeAne Taylor Suarez

    Well said Matthew and I couldn’t agree more; 1 down…20% checked off for today! 🙂 have a fabulous day.

  • Great frame of mind reset, Matthew. Time to stop worrying about everyone I haven’t been able to meet, and focus on those that I already have.

  • Great post Matthew. Not only is this a more genuine way to build your business, it’s also a lot like John Houseman said in the old Smith Barney commercial –

  • Correct, it’s not Rocket Surgery it’s daily conversation. Two thumbs up.

  • Payne Walker

    Thanks Matthew. I recall you saying the same thing years ago at one of you speaking events. It has stuck with me through the years and I believe it 1000%. I shared the article in an internal communication at my company and asked that it be read and that “This one article could save you tens of
    thousands of dollars over your career and help you earn hundreds of
    thousands of dollars over your career.”

  • Thanks for sharing it, Payne!!

  • Exactly! It’s not hard to sell. You just have to DO IT! :>

  • Great pick of video – I have often recalled this video in my classes, because it’s the truth: We have to earn our success.

  • Bob, good points. And for some people, you CAN spend enough money to generate enough business for an Ad-to-ROI equation that works. For most salespeople though, the problem, as you point out, is communicating more and letting our past clients and sphere of influence lift us to success. Glad it’s working for you – and thanks for your comments!!!

  • EXACTLY! I appreciate the applause!

  • You, too, LeAne! I look forward to hearing how your conversations are succeeding.

  • petertoner

    This is great advice, now if only we could find a way to get these guys off their buts and actually do it …

    … Oh, wait – it’s easier to throw money at the lead generators, so they can sit in their pajamas longer 😉

  • Michael J. Maher-Realtor

    Advertising and marketing are the costs you have to pay for not knowing how to build relationships. It is as simple as that. Enjoyable post.

    Michael J. Maher
    #1 International Bestselling Author
    (7L)The Seven Levels of Communication:
    Go from Relationships to Referrals
    North America’s Most Referred Real Estate Professional
    Father and Founder of The Generosity Generation

    P.S. Looking forward to meeting. We’ve both done several Center Stages for Wells Fargo and I’ve heard good things about you and your presentations.

  • Tim Leary

    I’m right on the fence on this one. I’m about to pull the trigger on some Zillow advertising. My target zip code is very exclusive, in every way. I’m new in the business and recently relocated across the country. I’ve come home, but didn’t exactly slide back into a deep SOI- I’ve been away a long time. I excel at “meeting people” and striking up conversations out of thin air…Starbucks, et al. But a classmate from my real estate class (so same exact time in the business) has 5x as many closings, which she attributes to her Zillow ad spend…

  • Hi Tim:
    Thanks for your comment. Here are a few thoughts: Each salesperson is different, and you should always act to maximize the way YOU sell best. It’s possibly you’re equally good in person as you are with web-leads; or it’s possibly you’d do better going out meeting people, knocking on doors in neighborhoods, talking to FSBOs, etc. What works for your classmate may or may not apply to you at all.

    The other thing I’m going to suggest is that 5X as many closings may not be what you want, either. First, what matters isn’t closings but profits retained AFTER the cost of marketing. Your classmate may NEED to do 5 times as much work just to make an acceptable income because her margin on Zillow leads may not be so high. Just saying. On the other hand, 5X is also kind nebulous: Five times what? If you did 2 deals, that’s only 10. If you did ten deals, she’s doing 50. Do you want to do 50 deals? Is that what your business plan calls for?

    So, here’s my suggestion: Go back to YOUR business plan and make sure ANY choices you make for advertising and prospecting reflect the KIND, VOLUME and PROFIT margins of work you want. Then you’ll have a better idea of whether or not Zillow – or postcards – or websites – or whatever – is right for you.

    Good luck!

  • Nice post Matthew. I fully agree…we are on the way of doing these daily contacts!